OPUS: A Haven at Elevation
by Martinique Davis | Photos by Brett Schreckengost
Jan 24, 2012 | 6176 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Amish stove, for heat and cooking (from top); exposed wood beams in the main living level; heading out at sunrise for some turns.
The Amish stove, for heat and cooking (from top); exposed wood beams in the main living level; heading out at sunrise for some turns.
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Recycled timber-frame barn-wood beams and locally sourced stones at the entrance; Kingsley cooking elk chili-dogs for dinner on the Amish stove; Looking toward Silverton, 
from a south-facing deck.
Recycled timber-frame barn-wood beams and locally sourced stones at the entrance; Kingsley cooking elk chili-dogs for dinner on the Amish stove; Looking toward Silverton, from a south-facing deck.
slideshow
Ski huts, in my experience, are not long on luxury. Sculpted more by awe-inspiring backdrops than by attention to design, they are better known for a no-frills ambiance than for attention to detail.

Until now, with the OPUS Hut – the name stands for Ophir Pass Ultimate Ski hut – the realization of Ophir resident Bob Kingsley’s two-decade dream to build a ski hut in Colorado.

Through painstaking research and unbridled enthusiasm for the spirit of the traditionally Spartan ski hut, Kingsley has re-envisioned the classic ski hut. Nestled in the shadow of Lookout Peak, high on a forested ridge between Ophir and Silverton, the elegant OPUS offers a level of comfort that’s downright opulent, especially considering its location, at 11,765 feet. What’s more, Kingsley has made it accessible to visitors like me, whose bank accounts would crumble under the cost of a ski vacation to a “luxury” backcountry hut.

REFINED, BUT STILL A SKI HUT

By ski hut standards, the OPUS Hut is large, at 1,800 square feet, yet its bulk remains hidden amid a stand of old-growth evergreens until you’re virtually standing at the doorstep. The two-story edifice, wrapped in locally sourced stone and cloaked with rough-hewn timbers, appears venerable, rising up from its rugged domain, encircled by the northern San Juans’ jagged, snowcapped peaks.

With its weatherworn wood-and-stone exterior, it has the look of a place that’s been here for a while despite its relative newness (Kingsley finished construction on the OPUS Hut just this fall). At its core, OPUS is an old structure, indeed: Kingsley fashioned the hut from parts of a century-old dairy barn from Wisconsin, and it’s well suited to its new life as a Colorado backcountry haven.

Inside, the OPUS Hut combines the traditional elements of the classic ski hut with the more refined comforts of a mountain chalet.

“There’s been a lot of changing demands in huts over the years,” Kingsley says, drawing on the more than 20 years he has spent visiting ski huts around the world.

Older ski huts tend to have a more communal feel, with a typical layout consisting of one large room, containing both sleeping and cooking quarters.

“People have gotten tired of that,” Kingsley explains, pointing to newer huts in Europe and Canada that boast multiple separate rooms for sleeping, yet maintain the communal common areas for cooking and hanging out.

The OPUS Hut is in that newer category, with five separate bedrooms – three on the ground floor and two on the top – intersected by a spacious kitchen-and-living room area on the middle floor that boasts expansive views from wraparound windows and decks.

Multiple bedrooms allow smaller groups and families to feel at home, while still making the hut accessible to larger groups (OPUS has enough beds to sleep 16).

The middle floor features an open-layout kitchen-and-living area, featuring reclaimed barnwood floors, exposed rough-hewn timber frame columns and European-style windows that tilt inwards when opened, giving the space a rustic yet refined feel. At its center is a wood-fired Amish cookstove, doing triple duty as oven, cooktop, and the main floor’s mood-setting heat source, its glass windows evoking the ambiance of a living room fireplace.

Unlike most ski huts, there’s no painstaking snow-melting required for drinking water here: The OPUS Hut employs a rainwater catchment system, which jettisons rainwater from the roof and through a high-grade filter system straight to the hut’s kitchen and bathroom sinks (infinitely more efficient than cutting, hauling and burning hundreds of cords of wood!).

Efficiency was a major driver in the OPUS Hut’s overall design, says Kingsley, to which end it boasts solar heat and power, and composting toilets.

For the final, luxurious flourish, guests can step outside the main building and into a low-slung structure just a few feet away, turning up the heat in a sauna, inspired by Canada’s contemporary hut system, where each locale boasts a sauna.

A LONG-HELD DREAM

The OPUS Hut represents the realization of Kingsley’s long-held dream to build a ski hut in Colorado.

Kingsley put together a hut proposal back in 1985, while living in Steamboat Springs and working as a ski touring guide there. By the time his proposal was approved ten years later, he had moved on. Kingsley has lived in Ophir since 1998, working in construction, but he always kept his hut concept on the back burner.

“I kept poking around courthouses and looked at lots of different mining claims” where building a hut might be feasible, he says. He almost moved forward on building a hut on a mining claim he found near Rocky Mountain National Park, until “I finally realized there was that claim up there,” Kingsley says from his home in Ophir, pointing to the high mountain pass visible through his living room windows.

That was five years ago.

Kingsley’s long road to building the hut of his dreams began at meetings with the San Juan Board of County Commissioners, where he promised a public easement through the property (part of the original turn-of-the-century transportation route between Ophir and Silverton passes through the claim), and ultimately received the OK on his project.

Then came the backbreaking work of building a hut at 11,765 feet, miles from the nearest improved road. Although Kingsley is a carpenter by trade, the logistics were sometimes mind-boggling, he admits. Even staging supplies was a major undertaking for a building project located on a steep slope hundreds of feet above the Ophir Pass Road. The timber frame was flown in by helicopter, as were loads of mortar and concrete, but Kingsley had to orchestrate the rest. He bought a 1978 Snowcat for hauling rebar and structural insulated panels, but most supplies came up on Kingsley’s back – and on the backs of friends and neighbors. Four pallets of mortar (in 168 80-lb. bags) were transported by friends, as was the hut’s 750-gallon capacity septic tank that required eight people to lug it up Ophir Pass.

Thirty of Kingsley’s friends and neighbors, mostly Ophirians, lent their hands and hammers for the hut-raising party three years ago, but over the next two years, Kingsley mostly worked solo or with just a friend or two to finish the OPUS Hut.

Constraints kept Kingsley thinking creatively; he erected the exterior back porch, for example, leveraging a self-styled system of cables and pulleys; then, powered by the Snowcat, he lifted and positioned huge sections of timber, inch by inch, alone.

A WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE, MADE ACCESSIBLE

As a member of the Canadian Alpine Club, a guide for the Colorado 10th Mountain Division’s hut system and in travels through Chile, Nepal and Europe, Kingsley has stayed at ski huts across the globe. Every hut he visited over the years contributed to the OPUS Hut’s overall design – at once “cozy, yet rustic and tough,” he says.

Accessibility was also an important objective for Kingsley, who knew that marketing the location to skiers of every ability and income level would be key to the hut’s success as a business. “I wanted this to be for the high-end client right down to the single guy who wants to put down his 33 bucks and get a bunk for the night,” he says. Room rentals range from a very affordable $33 per person per night to $450 per night for the entire hut.

Accessibility to more advanced backcountry ski and mountaineering terrain was also a major sticking point for Kingsley, who, when prompted, exposes his deep knowledge of nearly every skiable slope within the radius of the OPUS Hut. “I wanted to capture that more advanced end of the ski spectrum,” he says, adding that opportunities for intermediate ski terrain also abound.

Kingsley’s main motivation in building the OPUS Hut was to provide a wilderness experience for those seeking easily accessible outdoor adventures.

“I really want to turn people on to the outdoors and to backcountry skiing, in a natural way and in a natural setting,” he says, noting that as the ski resort model becomes more and more expensive, it is also farther removed from the wilderness. “I wanted [OPUS] to be affordable and accessible to everyone, from families and beginners to ski mountaineers,” he says, “someplace that will leave a lasting impression.”

OPUS Hut is about 3.5 miles and 1,800 vertical feet from Ophir, and about three miles and 1,500 vertical feet from the turnoff onto Ophir Pass Road from Highway 550 between Silverton and Ouray. For more information visit www.OPUShut.com.

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